Lucky notes that effective March 1, Emirates will become a mileage accrual partner of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan — and that later in the year you’ll be able to burn miles for Emirates flights.
That’s great, I noted yesterday that Emirates was in desperate need of a US airline partner having lost United and Continental (I had expected that partner to be American until American hooked up with Etihad). Sure, Emirates promoted its interline agreement with JetBlue, and there’s probably some non-zero benefit they get feeding their New York flights from that. But the cupboard is pretty bare. I expected them to cozy up to Delta, and for sure they still may, but it seemed interesting that concomitant with the launch of their Seattle service they’re hooking up with Alaska. Good move for Emirates, and also for Alaska — but great news for frequent flyers.
Sure, it’s great to have a program to credit Emirates flying to. But I’m most interested in it from the redemption side. We don’t have any details yet — United used to allow redemption all the way up to first class, Continental only offered redemptions in business. Alaska often allows first class redemptions on many of its partners, I’d love to see that here and also at a reasonable price point (most Alaska awards are at least ‘in the ballpark’ if not a direct value).
Currently Emirates only partners with Japan Airlines, and the JAL frequent flyer award chart is frequently better than the Emirates Skywards one for redemption. Emirates makes quite a bit of first class award space available, including on the Airbus A380 (showers in first class on that baby!). The seats are probably relatively easy to get in part because there’s little competition for them. No American or United members clamoring to scoop them up. Certainly for the median North American member the most likely way to do it is via a Starwood points transfer.
Alaska, on the other hand, presents an interesting alternative. Their Bank of America-issued credit card is churnable, in my experience (and a great deal for the $99 companion ticket valid on any fare, any seat, including first class to Hawaii). They’re a transfer partner of several hotel programs including Starwood, and also a Diners Club Rewards transfer partner in North America. You can credit American and Delta flying to them. So their points are obtainable.
Alaska has some really interesting features to their program:
- They have lots of partners, mostly oneworld and Skyteam, not just American and Delta but also Qantas, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Air France and Korean.
- They allow you to book awards whenever a partner’s flight schedule opens. American Airlines in contrast only allows booking 331 days out. Alaska doesn’t load their own schedule until then, but for airlines that load theirs 350+ days in advance like BA, Cathay, and Qantas, Alaska offers an advantage. It’s possible to grab those non-stop Qantas flights from the US to Australia the moment the Qantas schedule opens using Alaska miles. In my experience they’ll even let you call back later and add in Alaska segments to get to the international gateway city (since you couldn’t do it when you booked the award before the Alaska schedule was loaded) without a change fee.
- Creative routings are generally permitted. I love Cathay Pacific from the US to Australia, say New York JFK to Hong Kong to Perth. And I especially love Cathay to South Africa, with an allowable stopover in Hong Kong, that’s 140,000 miles in first class (the same price as just flying first class to Hong Kong!).
Not everything is perfect. My chief beefs are:
- No one-way partner awards. Roundtrip only if you’re booking something other than just Alaska Airlines.
- No mixing partners on an award. You can only book on a single partner, plus adding in Alaska Airlines segments. So you need to use one partner in both directions, it’s not possible to fly American one-way and British Airways the other for instance (and yes, Alaska adds fuel surcharges onto British Airways redemptions).
- No award holds. They abolished holds a bit less than two years ago, without warning or explanation, it’s instant ticketing only.
I’m excited for the addition of Emirates to the stable of Alaska Mileage Plan partners. It offers the glimmer of possibility that I might finally get off my duff and redeem a first class award on their A380, something which to date I’ve decided has just been too expensive points-wise to justify.
Update: Worth noting that Emirates flying counts as elite qualifying with Alaska Mileage Plan. I admit that bit surprised me, hat tip to Rick R.